AAFP leaders had an opportunity to spread the word about the importance of family physicians and to cement congressional relations when a high-ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee stopped by AAFP headquarters here on March 23 to meet with constituents and talk to Academy leaders about issues of interest to family physicians.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., foreground, meets with Academy leaders to discuss key family medicine topics in the boardroom of Academy headquarters in Leawood, Kan. Also pictured are Craig Doane, AAFP VP for Publications and Strategic Partnerships, center, and Chad Tenpenny, Roberts' state director and counsel.
Furthering the conversation on one of the AAFP’s top advocacy issues was the focus for AAFP EVP Douglas Henley, M.D., when he told Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that a permanent solution to the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula, which is used to calculate Medicare physician payment rates, is a key issue for family physicians because the formula has consistently triggered payment reductions that have only been averted by last-minute congressional action.
The current fiscal environment in Washington isn't conducive to finding a permanent fix to the SGR, however, so Academy leaders have advocated that, at the very least, a longer-term fix be put into place. A two- or three-year period free from constant threats of SGR-based physician pay cuts, Henley said, would permit the results of ongoing demonstration projects involving new payment models in both the public and private sectors to be assessed.
Roberts acknowledged that the atmosphere in the nation's capitol is unpredictable. But, he said, "I will do anything I can to give you stability, with a reimbursement rate that we can achieve in regards to the budget."
Perry Pugno, M.D., M.P.H., AAFP VP for education, took the opportunity to talk about graduate medical education during the meeting with Roberts. He praised Roberts for his support of Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, which provides federal grants for training family physicians. He also pointed to the positive "multiplier effects" family medicine residencies have in the communities in which they are located.
After a period of declining interest, Pugno explained, more medical students now are choosing family medicine as their specialty. In the 2011 National Resident Matching Program, the number of students who chose family medicine increased by 11 percent, according to Pugno.
"Student interest in primary care careers had been low, and now the pendulum is coming back. We have more students interested, and we need them in the training programs," Pugno said, explaining that the potential for improvements in reimbursements, more "social consciousness" and more desire to practice among the underserved are factors in students' heightened interest.
"They want to make a difference, and the best opportunity they have to make a difference is in primary care," said Pugno.
Henley agreed. "Despite the partisanship of health reform, there was a loud and singular message from both (Democrats and Republicans) that primary care is important to the future of this country. It is very important to tell medical students that at the government level, primary care is important."